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Opinion: Gabriel Heinze allegations highlight disconnect between Atlanta United decision makers and club’s culture

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The news yesterday is bad for Heinze but doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the leadership of Atlanta United

SOCCER: MAY 15 MLS - CF Montreal at Atlanta United FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the wake of Gabriel Heinze’s departure from Atlanta United on Sunday has been a slew of revelations about his training practices and working relationships with club staff. These range from the quirky to the obnoxious to the extreme, dangerous, and counter productive.

Doug McIntyre of Fox Sports detailed CBA violations and other training methods that seem odd or extreme. The biggest red flag of all of them was that Heinze denied his players water during training. Anyone who has ever been outside in Georgia ever knows that this is a problem and the combination of a strenuous training load plus dehydration can even be deadly.

This was followed up with a source who spoke to Doug Roberson and detailed the egregious nature of his impoliteness.

This is definitely concerning and not the type of behavior Atlanta United would expect out of its head coach. There’s also no doubt that the team doesn’t want to have issues with CBA violations designed to keep the players healthy and injury free.

However, McIntyre’s article discusses events that happened in training camp and Roberson’s tweet mentions something that occurred early in the season. What’s more, Heinze’s training habits were well known in Argentina before being hired. Argentine journalist Pablo Carrozza mentioned that Heinze’s standards for fitness made some players develop eating disorders and some would go to bed without eating for fear of gaining weight.

In a video that made the rounds yesterday from 2019, Velez player Nico Dominguez discussed the fines that players faced for gaining weight, Heinze’s desire for the players to be slim, and the demands he puts on his players.

Earlier in the year ahead of the season, Felipe Cardenas of the Athletic discussed Heinze’s past training methods quoting an interview from TYC with a Velez player who said, “Everyone knows about Gabi and how strict he can be,” he went on to say, “He’s a coach who is always on his players. No one is considered a starter. It’s just players that play and others that don’t. That’s how he handles it. We never know who is going to play on the weekend.”

As Josh mentioned yesterday, an Atlanta United manager pushing his players hard in training is nothing new. Tata Martino also received criticism for the players’ workload and injuries they suffered. A grievance was also filed with the MLSPA against him, but his departure was not met with sources dragging him for training methods.

That the strictness of the training and fitness standards that Heinze had in Argentina was known and reported on either shows that Atlanta’s front office knew about the issues and hired him anyway or didn’t and failed to dig up the information during the hiring process. Once Heinze got to Atlanta and implemented his training process, as Doug McIntyre mentions, medical staff at the club intervened. Presumably his source has enough knowledge of the situation and is credible enough to have this information published, and it’s probably safe to say the front office was aware of these problems before yesterday.

What’s more, at least a few weeks ago Darren Eales was backing Heinze.

It would appear that the team is launching an all out public relations blitz to justify the decision to fire the manager months after problems in training were known. If that’s not the case and the front office did not know about them until recently, that would indicate that perhaps the front office has little idea of how its team is being run. That later point seems unlikely, though it is also worrying that this seems to fit a pattern with the front office and its relationships with managers. Last year, the team seemed unaware of how players were impacted by the manager until the team entered the bubble in Orlando during the MLS is BACK tournament.

This comes in the midst of a season in which Felipe Cardenas’ article discussing how Carlos Bocanegra ran the team, alienated players and Tata Martino was called a “tabloid gossip bit with 10 unattributed sources riddled with inaccuracies” and “clickbait” by Darren Eales. When asked to comment about the McIntyre’s article, the team declined.

It’s hard to argue with hiring Heinze. He had the look of a manager who was on the rise and could turn a struggling team around. An argument can even be made for sticking with a coach through a tough stretch. It’s also fair to say he should be fired because of that tough stretch. At the end of the day, the front office has to own these decisions. They are the ones making them and are responsible for them. The leaks and spin are a further sign of weakness from an organization that has experienced a shocking fall from glory.